Steve Rowland maintains the aluminum can bin at Sunshine Foods to help raise funds for Chatfield's Western Days celebration. 
Steve Rowland maintains the aluminum can bin at Sunshine Foods to help raise funds for Chatfield's Western Days celebration. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS

Before “Giddyap!” comes “Can it,” and Steve Rowland’s in the bin for an August “Yeehaw!”

Rowland, a member of Chatfield’s Western Days Committee, has devoted his time to maintaining an aluminum can collection bin in the Sunshine Foods parking lot to help raise funds for Chatfield’s annual town celebration.

“I made the bin out of scrap — a lot of it came from where they tore down the fence behind the old elementary school,” he explained. “I brought a welder down, built the bin, and when I got done, I brought my backhoe in and hauled it to the grocery store. Dick Kivimagi collects cans one block over, but we get a lot of them in the bin at the store.”

Even now, in mid-February, planning for the 2018 Western Days festivities is underway.  The celebration is made possible in part by the efforts and investment Rowland and fellow Western Days Committee members Pam Bluhm and Randy Bidsler make as soon as the last horse has trotted off into the sunset at the end of the celebration, as well as by donations of pop cans at the grocery store collection bin.

Rowland, whose top half is often seen in the can bin as he’s sorting and flinging aluminum, stated, “It’s an ongoing process — as soon as we finish with one Western Days, we take about a week off, sigh, and then about a week later, we start all over again. But the pop cans…I’ve got roughly 80 plastic barrels that I use, and as I get about 60 of them filled up, I jump up and down in the barrels to flatten the cans because one barrel of flattened cans is equivalent to about three barrels of loose cans. Flattening them makes the trip to haul them worth it. I borrow Randy’s trailer and then I haul them up, argue about the price, get paid for them and start the process again.”

Rowland’s role is to be the “can guy,” or the man who wrangles the beer and pop cans into the barrels, sorts out the non-recyclables that unscrupulous depositors have put in the bin and keeps after said depositors so that the bin gathers only useful recyclables.

He pointed out, “I think I spend one to two hours a week in the bin in the winter, and in the summer months, there are more cans because people drink more beer. I do yell at people in my Western Days column in the paper, and I do think it’s made a difference…for the most part, people are really good about sorting their cans and keeping the trash out.”

The results are best shown in the spare change that helps pay for the community’s horsin’ around — Rowland observed that while a pop or beer can might seem to have little or no value, its recyclable value has added up over the six or seven years he’s been keeping his parking lot stomping grounds.

“We’ve made $13,000 or $14,000 over the last six or seven years,” he stated. “We usually break that down to about $2,000 to $3,000 per year, and that’s used for various expenses. Probably a lot of that goes toward advertising — we spend $2,000 to $3,000 per year to advertise Western Days, and sometimes we use some toward units in the parade, and there’s money we have available from donations from a lot of people and businesses in Chatfield.”

The can money is a small sum compared to the investigating, brainstorming and discussion that the committee carries out to be certain that the upcoming Western Days is as spectacular or even more exciting than the one before.

“Pam and Randy and I start talking informally about different ideas, and we’re working on it all through the year,” Rowland shared. “We don’t always agree, but we come up with ideas. Randy does a great job with the parade — because it was the 50th anniversary last year, by all accounts, everybody seemed to agree that there were by far the most people than we’ve had ever before. Randy is very well versed and goes to so many parades…he knows what he’s looking for, and he does an excellent job of finding what he wants to bring to our parade.”

Rowland cited what might be changing at this year’s Western Days, beginning with the discontinuation of the Saturday night dance at the Bernard Bus garage.

“The dances at the Bernard Bus garage have been sponsored by the booster club, and attendance has dropped off enough that it’s not going to happen this year,” he said. “The goal was always to break even, and some years we had several thousand people, but the last few years, we’ve lost money. That money we’ve lost is better intended for the local organizations to use for other things. We still plan on having the teen dance with ‘Music on Wheels’ and the dance contest that’s typically on Friday night because attendance has grown each and every year. It’s still something we need to do.”

He went on, “Randy and Pam and I are thinking of possibly having a free band concert on Saturday night in the bandshell in City Park, and people can come to that and dance.”

The usual events, such as the volleyball and softball tournaments and horse show will still happen in Mill Creek Park, Wits’ End Theatre (WET) will still present its summer production, vendors will station themselves in City Park and the antique car, motorcycle and truck show will take place just a block off Main Street.

Western Days Committee meetings offer an opportunity for the members to hear proposals from churches, the Chatfield Saddle Club and anyone else who wants to suggest new events or changes or improvements to existing events.

Rowland cautioned that anyone who’s got a suggestion should be willing to put their volunteerism where their suggestions are, as the committee needs to have helping hands to make activities actually occur. “Anybody’s welcome to come to meetings — we’re certainly open to ideas,” he added.

Chatfield’s 2018 Western Days is slated to hit the trail as usual on the second weekend of August. In the meantime, Rowland’s got his boots in the pop can bin, and Bidsler and Bluhm are saddled up to visit town celebrations from here to Albert Lea and all the way to Wisconsin to bring in only the best for a hometown “Yee haw!”